Monday, February 28, 2011

Story Opening Contest Begins Now!


The First Pop Lit Story Opening Contest has started.
-200 words maximum length.
-One entry per person.
-Contest ends Monday March 21 @ 11:59 pm.

Simply post your story under "Comments" via the link at the bottom of this post.

---Please use a title and give your name as well---


-Allie Dresser has been fiction editor for sixteen months for Gloom Cupboard-- She writes on various sites like Fictionaut, among others.

-Frank Marcopolos is the former editor of the critically acclaimed literary zine, The Whirligig. A trained voice-over artist, he is currently producing audios of public-domain short stories on his website,

-Lynn Alexander is the founder and managing editor of Full of Crow Press and Distribution, producing print and web based content such as Crow Poetry, Fiction, Prate, Chapbook Series, Blink Ink, Fashion for Collapse, and more. She is also fiction editor at Red Fez and producer of MUST zine.

IMPORTANT: See the previous post on this blog for prize details. I'll be doing commentary about the contest on that thread, including discussion of any glitches or problems. Post all suggestions about the contest, or reaction to the story openings, complaints, and so on, there.

Thanks! Good luck.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Contest Starts Monday!

(NOTE: Post remarks, suggestions, and complaints about the above contest here under Comments.)

The arrival of the next post on this blog will mark the beginning of the First Official Pop Lit Story Opening Contest. You can then immediately post your entry.

-200 words maximum

-I request writers use a real identity, just in case you win. I’ll mail out prizes for the top three winning story openings. (If you’re an established writer and want to give your agent’s or publishers address, that’s fine. If you’re not an established writer and you want to give your mother’s or brother’s or chief creditor’s address, that’s fine also.)

-What are those prizes? Collector’s Items all. THIRD PLACE winner receives a rare copy of the 90’s lit-zine Pop Literary Gazette, of which by now there must be very few copies extant. SECOND PLACE receives a cd of noted storyteller Frank Marcopolos (see reading the classic J.D. Salinger story “Teddy.” FIRST PLACE receives a shrink-wrapped dvd set of every one of Elvis Presley’s appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.

-Scoring System? Each judge picks the three best story openings in their opinion. Points are awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice: 5 points, or 3, or 1. I then total points to find the winners. Any ties will be broken by myself, following the voice of the public.

-I have tentative commitments from two of the necessary three judges. They’ll shortly be announced.

-The idea of story openings is that they be fun or striking in and of themselves, but also make the reader hungry for more.

-Final arbiter of all disputes or questions will be the editor of this blog.

-Any other info or rules will be given here as I think of them!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

About Story Openings

THERE WILL be a story opening contest on this blog. Details forthcoming.

Two questions: Why a Story Opening Contest? What defines a good story opening?

Music composers from Beethoven to the Beatles understood the value of a dynamic opening. In this oversaturated cultural age, it might be the single most important key to literature’s survival, its ability to compete.

A story opening needs to be dynamic and attractive in itself—the best written part of the work. (See Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby.”) More, it needs to lay the groundwork for the rest of the tale—to present at least one thread or idea to be developed later—and to keep the reader reading!

The best story openings are striking from the first sentence. Remember Stephen Crane? "None of them knew the color of the sky." ("The Open Boat.") Or Stevenson: "Did you ever remark that door?" ("The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.")

Friday, February 11, 2011

POP21: “The Prisoner”


Life is a messy business.

The city was overrun by grubby life. Termites, cockroaches, pigeons, mice, rats, stray dogs and cats, inhabiting walls, floors, rooms, streets, alleyways, and backyards. They brought with them their cries, smells, gas, shit, disease, blood; their refuse and garbage. Among the various messy creatures in the city moved the messiest, grubbiest, most violent organism of them all.

A couple hundred of the most prosperous and ruthless of these harsh creations crowded into a lavish ballroom, a food-and-drink engulfed soiree at the poshly clean center of the violent city. For these individuals, the violence happened outside, away from them, on the streets. Here in the warm room of soothing white and violet colors circled the safe conflict of expressions and opinions, whose reverberations led to the more visceral flesh-ripping, life-ending kind.

Despite his throbbing shoulder, Fake Face shook hands with urgency. His battle with Big Boy hadn’t been one solely of bullets and fists. There remained the more intense battle against the District Attorney, Big Boy’s aunt, for justification and allies. Fake Face’s great aid in this struggle against the frowning and corrupt woman was his face. How could anyone not trust its generosity and benevolence? He was simply misunderstood by his critics. The stories people heard about him weren’t true. No! Couldn’t be. The kindly face must be the reality.

As media reports of gang warfare sped through Killtown, the District Attorney sat frozen within the flimsy security of her office, wondering if she should respond, and if so: how? She obsessed over political calculations, while people died. While Fake Face drew powerful figures to his side.

Word of Maxwell’s imprisonment reached her. Big Boy had lost the fight which she, the D.A., had initiated. Ever-generous Fake Face offered her a deal, one incumbent upon his victory.

As negotiations took place, Maxwell—aka Big Boy—remained securely hid. He’d been taken to a spot near the river, to the bottom of a railtower whose above ground structure had been obliterated. This sat within the remains of the end of a railyard in a broken-down neighborhood whose chief residents were river rats. The captive had been stashed inside the concrete-walled basement beneath ground. Within the basement, he’d been chained inside a small room, which in its decay, dirt, and dampness became a medieval dungeon.

The prisoner was strongly chained. His captors knew his strength. The guards who brought him food and water did so reluctantly. The large man-beast in the room had great reason to hate every one of them. They feared the injustice of his situation; sensed, in their animalistic way, the retribution which would surely fall upon them.

Therefore, the thickness of Big Boy’s chains.

The disheveled, shaggy-haired prisoner pushed the delivered food away with red eyes. Eyes as wary and piercing as those of any rat’s.

Max stopped eating. His huge form wasted away. He lost all appetite. He renounced his appetite, along with his physical body, which provided him now with nothing but heartache and unrelieved physical pain. The chains upon him were very tight. Max gave up the world, because the world had destroyed him.

At the highest corner of his cell: a dirty window with iron bars over it. Through the window could be seen amid the crumbling gray neighborhood a soot-gray church with a single red stained glass window left in it. The red spot appeared like a distant beacon within the town’s grayness. Maxwell smelled the closeness of the river. The red window stayed in the church tower, too high to reach.

Max tried to comprehend his situation. His cell was entirely gray. Senselessly with his hand he brushed dust from the gray wall. Until he saw that the wall behind the dust wasn’t gray, but green.

Green liqueur drinks moved upon silver trays at the important gala through which Fake Face happily circulated. Allies of the District Attorney treated him with abject deference, signal of his win. Around the room stood the city’s most esteemed and charitable residents, who’d stolen so much they had much to be charitable with. Several said out loud, “Aren’t we wonderful?” What was the purpose—or rather, the excuse—for the benefit? The Face didn’t know or care. Likely another cultural institution, a larger museum or redesigned library; a swankier palace.

Fake Face expected word about his ransom negotiations. He’d made only one request. Not money. He’d soon have enough of that! He’d asked instead for the D.A. to resign from her post.  “A statement,” he’d insisted. “I want a statement!”

He checked his phone. No updated messages. Then: a new text. “D.A. press conference in ninety minutes.”

Bored with the impossibly stupid, affluent, phony crowd, Fake Face hustled outside to his yellow limo parked at curbside. He grabbed keys from the waiting driver, climbed inside and to the stolid thug’s worried stare, Fake Face drove off into the night.

The prisoner waited. Time was short. Max struggled to remember a phrase that someone had said to him once. Or he’d said it. His forehead scrunched. Tears welled behind his eyelids.

In the corner of the bleak scene, through the high window, stood the soot-gray church with a single red-stained glass glowing out from it, the red spot more intense than before. The stark image reminded Maxwell of an existence outside himself.

Max knew he was going to die. Maybe that was why he didn’t mind the suffering. He minded the pain—very much minded the pain!—but knew he could take it, knew it would soon go away.

What was the point of his life?

As he asked the question, he felt strangely deepened. Existence expanded. For his entire life he’d been a child. He’d played roles to please other people. Football player. Deputy. Gangster. To please himself according to what he’d seen in movies or on TV. Only Merrily had seen the real Big Boy, seen through his size, his poses, his imaginings. Merrily!

After an hour of sadness and contemplation Maxwell remembered the missing phrase. His face brightened.

Echoing footsteps sounded suddenly upon the metal stairway that led down to the basement. A muscular guard thrust open the thick steel door to the cell. A moment later Fake Face stood within the damp enclosure.

Through the mask, the Face’s eyes studied the captive. Big Boy looked peaceful. His eyes were bloodshot. Likely he’d been sleeping. The stupid beast!

“You haven’t yet talked,” Fake Face said to the large chained animal. “It’s not too late for you to talk!”

Fake Face grabbed a loose chain and struck the kneeling man several times across the head with it. Crimson blood flowed from Max’s scalp, cheek, and mouth. His cut lips moved within his pale white face, as if ready now to talk.

“I’m someplace where you can never go,” the Big Boy whispered.

Fake Face grunted at the man’s imbecility.

“Keep your secrets,” he told him. “It doesn’t matter.”

Fake Face checked his phone.

At this moment, television screens across the city switched to the District Attorney’s news conference. Dark blue curtains served as backdrop. The gray-haired woman with black eyebrows, representative of power and authority, stepped to the podium.

“It’s almost done!” Fake Face exulted. “How triumphant. You know, I always win.”

Maxwell made no acknowledgement. His blue eyes gazed elsewhere.

“Your Auntie has agreed to my terms,” Face continued. “She’s on television now. You’ll be returned to Dear Auntie. I didn’t specify how!”

With a slim pistol Fake Face shot Max through the forehead. Then the Face grinned. The Face always grinned. Blood everywhere.

The District Attorney finished announcing her resignation. She took no questions. Bright lights turned off in the room. Bars of color shimmered across television screens before the stations resumed regular programming.